Are companies abandoning communities, violating em
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Are companies abandoning communities, violating em

Paul Holmes

  • The Washington Monthly suggests that we are witnessing the “twilight of the civic-minded CEO.” Pointing out that “as recently as the 1990s, the heads of Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble, Kodak, and RJR Nabisco were energetic [and often constructive] players in important policy debates,” the article complains that “in most medium-sized cities, for instance, the major banks have long since been bought up by Wall Street goliaths, and the CEOs who once led local civic boards and charities have been replaced by itinerant vice presidents less inclined or able to involve themselves in local affairs.” There’s not much had evidence backing this up, or any examination of the possibility that multinational companies in particular have shifted their involvement from local to global issues; nor is there much of an idea about how the trend might be reversed. I suspect there’s still plenty of community work going on—I see a lot of it in the SABRE Awards—but companies probably should be doing a better job of talking about what they are doing, and why.
  • “In an effort to control employees' activities on Facebook and Twitter, some US companies have instituted social media policies that run afoul of labor law and infringe on workers' rights,” says an article at Huffington Post, citing the National Labor Relations Board. This is an area in which companies need to tread lightly. My own instinct is that the rules for talking about GM, for example, on a social media site should not be any different from the rules for talking about GM at a cocktail party; that if you wouldn’t restrict an employee’s free speech in one medium, you shouldn’t restrict it in another. I’d also suggest that I’d rather see employee activity in this area government by guidance from someone in the public relations department rather than rules issued by the legal department.
  • Since I have been known to argue that it is possible to defend the indefensible, I feel obliged to comment on this New York Times story about western PR firms’ work for the government of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Do I believe it is possible to provide ethical PR counsel to a dictator like Hassad? Yes, I do. Do I think the work described in this article was ethically acceptable? No, I don’t.
  • A couple of interesting articles from [email protected] on the whole issue of corporate responsibility. C. B. Bhattacharya, Sankar Sen and Daniel Korschun offer research showing that very few stakeholders—including consumers, investors and employees—are aware of what companies are doing to be socially and environmentally responsible. Disappointing, but not surprising—and a clear argument that public relations people need to be more involved in shaping CSR activities (to ensure their relevance to these stakeholders) and communicating them. A second article profiles companies that are “making CSR a priority, embedding it into their operations and using it to attract and keep talent.”
  • There’s plenty of room for debate about the proper way for public relations people to engage with hostile reporters, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree that “false imprisonment” probably crosses some sort of line.
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